By Beth Demme
God is not a product or commodity, but I have to admit I have, at times, treated him like one.
A commodity is something people want that is available in limited supply.
I do not believe God is limited, but I am guilty of sometimes acting like my way of being in a relationship with God is the best, or only, way.
Sometimes I do this through denominationalism. I grew up proudly Lutheran, and now I am proudly Methodist. That pride becomes something ugly when I believe my denomination or my church is superior. When I secretly think we offer a better path to God than you or your church. Maybe I even think you get it mostly right. Isn’t that generous of me?
When I’m thinking clearly, I know God cannot be limited to a set of human beliefs. God is indescribable. I understand some of God’s qualities based on my experiences with God, but this only scratches the surface of our infinite God.
There are a million zillion denominations and non-denominations. My head spins a little thinking about all of them and their varied foci. I am comforted, however, when I remember that God is big enough that maybe, just maybe, we are all correct about some aspect of the Alpha and Omega.
The desire to describe the indescribable is not a new phenomenon. We’ve done it over and over again throughout church history. I can see why. On the one hand, I’m so excited, happy, and fulfilled in my relationship with God that I want to share my joy with you. In my excitement, I tell you the steps that helped me find a deeper relationship with God. In the beginning, my steps are only suggestions, but along the way they get turned into a list of rules you must follow in order to gain access to the Divine. Before we know it, we’ve put God in a box.
Once God is neatly packaged, he’s easier to sell.
Sometimes the church has been quite blatant about this. At the beginning of the 16th century, Pope Julius II granted the Spanish a Patronato and the Portuguese a Padroado. These were exclusive licenses to preach the Gospel in their respective new territories. Yes, that’s right. God was a franchise. Or at least, that’s how we treated him.
Think about the pivotal question for fire and brimstone preachers everywhere: “Where will you go if you die TONIGHT?” The emphasis on TONIGHT is an old advertising trick. It’s a way to create a sense of urgency to spur the customer to take action. “On sale, 20% off today only!” The subtle undercurrent of this preaching is a belief that the promise of something wonderful just isn’t enough. People won’t choose to come into relationship with God without the threat of something horrible and untimely. It is an attempt to convey how necessary our commodity is.
God’s love isn’t for sale, but still we try to sell it, don’t we? Choose God so you can have:
Without meaning to, we reduce God to a set of benefits. We sell a package of features instead of inviting people into a meaningful faith experience.
The confusing thing is, I believe a relationship with God does make life better. I have a terrific selling proposition: Choose God so you can have a better human existence!
Still, I hope my words and actions never make it seem like I think God is only for some people and not for others. I never want to make God seem like a limited time opportunity or a vanishing commodity.
I recently finished reading Sin of Certainty by Dr. Pete Enns. As an aside, let me say that I love everything Pete Enns writes; he and I are kindred spirits. I could quote pages and pages of this book to you, but for now, I will resist the temptation. Instead, let me close with his words:
As it’s used in the Bible, believing doesn’t focus on what someone believes in, but in whom one places his or her trust—namely, God. Believing is a “who” word.
Let’s all go forward focused on who God is, not on what God can do for us.
Have you ever tried to sell God? Do you agree that we sometimes treat God like a product or limited commodity? Do you think your denomination/church/small group is a little better than others? I’d love to hear your story. Make a comment, send me an e-mail, or respond on my Facebook page.
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